Friday, March 23, 2012

Is Free the New Black?

          Everyone loves a bargain. I’m no exception. As I’ve said before, I am trying hard to buy indie books and support my fellow writers. I believe in putting my money where my mouth is, and indie prices are definitely better than traditionally published books that are oftentimes priced the same as the paperback versions. I’ll admit, lately I’ve been filling my reader up with the free books I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter. Sites like ENT, Pixel of Ink, and even Amazon have daily listings of free books and they have thousandsof followers. If there are so many free books available, why should readers pay?

            My husband always says things are only worth what people are willing to pay for them. Authors put so much time and energy into their books (not to mention input from editors, cover artists, beta readers, reviewers, etc.). Shouldn’t they be compensated? I know I want people to buy my book. I love writing, but do I want to keep putting books out without the prospect of getting some royalties in return. I don’t love writing that much.

            I have read a lot of blogs recently debating this very subject and indie ebook pricing in general. There are two camps. There are those who believe that offering your book for free (at least temporarily) is a great way to get your book into the hands of readers and will ideally create some buzz including climbing the all powerful Amazon rankings with the hope that it will stimulate future sales. In talking to authors, the success of this strategy is not consistent. For some authors, it was the just the push they needed and their book sales have continued to increase after the free promotion. For other authors, they saw a spike in sales and then a drop off back to pre-promo levels. One author who had his book up for free for several days had a shout out from ENT and got 7000 downloads. Ok, so that’s a great way to get his book out there, but the business side of me thinks at $2.00 a pop in royalties, that’s $14,000.00 lost! Granted, he wasn’t getting 7000 downloads before that, but I’m a business person at heart and that just hurts.

            The second camp thinks that free ebooks are hurting authors; that readers are going to get used to getting books for free and stick with those or wait for author promos to pick them up. Authors have a right to be compensated for the time and effort they put into a book. For some, it’s a full time job. It’s how they make a living. I have a terrible confession. I have a traditionally published author I love. When her latest book came out, I went to buy it and saw that it was priced as high as the paperback, so I didn’t get it. A few weeks later, I saw a promo by the author for that same book, and I bought it for less than 1/3 of the original price. I did it. I refused to pay full price for an author’s work and was able to get it much cheaper. The people in this camp also think that how you price your book says something about the content. If you offer your book for free or $0.99 that’s all it’s worth inside. How do you determine the value or worth of someone’s creative process?

            As usual, I have more questions than answers. My books fall in the paranormal romance genre which is brutal. I have complained several times here on my blog about trying to get noticed in a genre that is not only flooded with indie writers, but has a long list of awesome traditionally published authors as well. How can I get my book noticed in an ocean of books in this genre? I have my book priced at $2.99 so now I’m also in competition with free and $0.99 books. If all goes well, I will be publishing my second book this June. It is the next book in my series, so the question comes up – should I offer my first book for free temporarily? As a marketing strategy, it makes sense for books in a series. If I list my first book for free for a short time and generate enough interest, hopefully they will come back and pay for the second.

            Would love to hear what you think on the subject or what the results have been if you offered your book for free. Thanks for stopping by!


  1. It's a hard one. My Mum absolutely loves reading and she hasn't long bought a Kindle, where she is always looking for free books to try. She says she's found a few duff books this way but she's really glad that she's able to do it because she has found a few new writers who she is really enjoying, and who she otherwise would have never found. While it's true that she's not paying for the books she did shell out a good wad of cash for the Kindle itself - perhaps when you buy an e reader they should come with a certain amount of credit to spend on it? In a way I think that would make it a bit less hard to part with your hard earned cash. People think they've paid a lot of money for the Kindle itself and then why should I pay the same amount of money if I were going to have the actual book? I will say though that my Mum is a thrifty type of person and she would hardly ever go and spend lots of money on books. She always preferred to go into charity shops and pay less money for second hand books - while donating to charity all at the same time, so the fact that she tends to get the free books doesn't really matter as she wouldn't have spent the money on it in the first place.

    For me, I'm a university student and if the book that I need to study is on the Kindle I will buy it, even if it's the same price. Carrying less heavy books around campus can only be a good thing.

    But looking at my Mum - I would say that people who are willing to pay for their favourite books will have no issues doing so, while others who wouldn't have bought books brand new in the first place might go hunting for the freebies...

    (Sorry about the length of this :O ...)

    1. Don't worry about the length Sarah, I really appreciate the comment. It is good to hear from a consumer's point of view too. Thanks!

  2. My friend, I see sense in both camps. Ultimately, what we've got to do is get our book in people's hands, how ever we can. That's the only priority. If our writing is any good, the hook will be set in them and they will follow. We'll start worrying about making money somewhere around book three.
    I hope the weekend is treating you well.


  3. Thanks Jimmy. I tend to agree with you, but I received a lot of comments from authors who said they would never offer their book(s) for free. They said that it was about perceived value. If it is offered for free it isn't worth anything. I think that may be a bit harsh. The one comment I did get that made me think was from an author who said that just because someone downloads your book for free doesn't mean they will read it. That struck a chord with me because I haven't read any of the free books I have downloaded yet.

  4. Hi Michelle. I think the book should be priced right - I'm going to price mine at 3.99 as it's 530 pages. I also think if it's too cheap that will be the perception of the buyer, that it's a crap book. I don't have anything against the free book, but only as a 2 or 3 day promo - after it has a decent price. There's no point having a free book if it's always free, because there is no perceived value for the reader e.g. if I saw strawberries for $4.00 one day and $1.00 the next day I'd rush to buy them, but if they were always $1.00 I wouldn't think I was getting a bargain. I agree that you don't necessarily read the free books you download. I think the minimal free days can increase your readership but there are no guarantees.

  5. While I agree that much depend on various factors, I find that a few simple rules apply:

    1. Printing costs money - the least, you can do is price the book at printing cost (and even if your book is an eBook, there are basic costs to server, site upkeep and managing)

    2. If your book is a full grown novel, FOR FREE is selling out, even if it is just for a short promo - instead you could put out a prequel or the beginning of your book for free

    3. In the end, what you have is a unique product. No reader can get what you sell anywhere else. If your reader buys a book by another author, that book is not your book - so, if the reader is right in believeing that he/she is getting the same product for less money, there is something very wrong with your book.